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UPDATE: RPS School Board Approves Virtual Learning for Spring

MLK Middle
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Richmond. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

The Richmond School Board approved a recommendation by Superintendent Jason Kamras for schools to remain fully virtual through the spring semester at a meeting Monday night.

The proposal passed 8-1 with a dissenting vote from board member Jonathan Young, whose proposal to allow teachers to teach in-person in March failed.

Kamras says his decision to recommend virtual learning for the rest of the school year is based on alarming health data that shows a rise in COVID-19 infection rates in Richmond.

According to the Virginia Health Department, Richmond schools are in the “highest risk” category of new COVID-19 cases, one of the department’s three core indicators of risk of transmission in schools.

“We have already seen dozens of infections among our students and staff – including one fatality – while fully virtual. I don’t want us to do anything that would cause those numbers to increase, even slightly,” Kamras said in an email.

The superintendent also cited surveys that show that the majority of staff members and over half of nearly 6,000 families preferred virtual classes for the spring. 

Kamras added that returning to in-person instruction would exacerbate inequities in transportation, and force a significant number of students to end up with new teachers. However, he also recognized the downsides of sticking with virtual learning.

“The long-term academic and social-emotional impacts for these young people are likely to be significant. Second, home is unfortunately not always the safest place for some students. An additional virtual semester will only exacerbate this reality. And third, staying remote means that many working families will continue to struggle with balancing their jobs and childcare,” he said.

Kamras did leave open the possibility of revisiting the question of in-person instruction later in the semester, if vaccine became available in time for the general public.

For students in Henrico County, in-person instruction has been delayed until mid-January because of increasing health risks. In Chesterfield, a majority of students went virtual after Thanksgiving -- and the school board doesn't expect students to be back in the classroom until the end of January at the earliest.

During the same Monday school board meeting, Kamras also suggested changes to the 2021-2022 school year. He’s gave the school board two proposals:

First, a year-round school year, with a reduced summer break of only 1 month. This proposal also includes the possibility for two-week long breaks in the fall, winter and spring.

The second option is an adjusted traditional school year, with extra days at either the beginning or end of the school year, and with longer school days.

Kamras says the goal of this adjusted school year would be to make up the negative impacts virtual learning has had on students this year.

The school district will continue to gather input from the community and will not make a decision until late February at the earliest.

This story was updated after the school board meeting.